Telenursing is the check-up you receive without having to lift your aching body out of bed. It is the flu prescription you can source on your phone between meetings. It is the choice of a primary care physician that doesn’t require you to get in your car and drive across town.
Unfortunately, telenursing is also temporarily unavailable because your wifi isn’t working. It is a distant, clinical conversation when you really need a personal touch. And it is something of a political and legal mess of jurisdictions and insurance jargon.
Such are the advantages and disadvantages of telenursing. It’s a practice that promises much for the future of healthcare but also throws up many challenges along the way. Today, we are going to assess six of the biggest pros and cons currently facing the virtual delivery of nursing, and how it will change our expectations of what a nurse’s role is in our lives, both in sickness and in health.
The Telenursing Advantage
Telenursing is still more potential than realization at the moment. However, when that potential promises to improve the delivery of healthcare services, empower patient healthcare choices, and create a more efficient and better-connected industry, it is well worth focusing on the positives.
Care Anywhere, Any Time
Video conferencing is built to overcome distance. As such, telenursing’s greatest advantage is the ability to deliver health services between almost any two points in the world. It is possible to set up a spoke-and-wheel arrangement with the patient at the center of a network of healthcare professionals, healthcare aides, facilities, and family and friends. Rather than travel between brick-and-mortar destinations, the patient can remain in their home or primary care facility and receive support wherever they’re most comfortable.
The possibility of virtual travel means:
- Expert services can be delivered to remote areas that don’t have the population to support a physical presence.
- Human medical resources can be more efficiently delivered across facilities.
- Patients can access care at their convenience, encouraging more people to seek help.
- Healthcare professionals can assess patients in their home environment.
Telenursing instantly brings expert and extended care wherever it is needed. And it does so with technology that is readily accessible and increasingly affordable.
Better Connected in the Cloud
Telenursing is first and foremost a communications technology. It allows nurses to replicate the intimate conversations that accompany their routine medical duties across distances. Rather than being restricted to the patients on a ward or the homebound individuals in their immediate vicinity, telenurses can potentially have close, regular relationships with patients scattered across an entire state via a basic video conferencing connection.
Digitizing healthcare communication also makes it easier to store and share patient information. A unified, central repository of patient records can be accessed by any authorized medical professional as easily as you and I share photos online. Cloud computing has the potential to be used to capture and organize every medical intervention made in a patient’s lifetime. The days of nurses having to retrieve handwritten files from doctor’s office are well and truly over–and many video vendors now meet the strict HIPAA compliance standards that safeguard patient information online.
Telenursing brings the promise of choice. It should provide patients with more options for how, when, and where they receive care and from which services. We may all swear that our family doctor is the best, but location still plays a large role in why we see our local doctor. We’ve already seen a number of healthcare options spring up via smartphone healthcare apps, and consumer confidence remains one of the last stumbling blocks to patients getting their basic medical attention online–though confidence should build with exposure.
Choice will begin with convenience, and as more specialized services come online we could see virtual nurses act as referral points to targeted care, like digital triage. It’s just one of the ways the role of nurses may change as digital medicine grows in popularity. That transition is going to clash with what patients expect from nurses. Viewing the shift as a case of “something lost” is one of the main disadvantages of telenursing.
The Telenursing Downside
Every emerging technology must go through a period of growing pains where potential meets current practice. Video conferencing itself is a tool that comes with a learning curve. When you mix that new technology with the stress and emotion of the medical field, you end up with a few hard-to-ignore barriers to telemedicine.
The Internet Is Down
More than $26 billion of revenue is lost every year to system downtime. It’s easy to understand the cost of internet downtime, server failure, and network errors in monetary terms, but disruptions to health services are harder to calculate and comprehend.
What happens to telenursing when a patient’s internet connection is down? How do we ensure remote medical devices in a patient’s home are functioning properly? The need for substantial tech support adds a layer of complexity to telenursing that is difficult to comprehensively assess. Then there is the challenge of instilling consumer confidence in online services in an era dominated by security hacks and the desire of social media companies to trade personal information for advertising dollars.
Replicating the Human Touch
Telenursing will change the expectations patients have of their healthcare workforce. The physical presence of a nurse is still a part of their perceived role for many of us. Bedside manner is taught in medical schools for a reason: empathy and compassion are part of what we seek from our nurses and doctors alike.
One challenge of telenursing is that patients will have to get used to the idea that the bulk of their digital medical interactions will be via the two-way glass of a video call. Video conferencing is great at replicating in-room conversation, but it hasn’t yet evolved to allow someone to put a virtual hand on your shoulder.
The Red Tape
The potentially limitless digital boundaries of telenursing currently run up against some immovable political lines. Every state in the U.S. has different laws governing the use of telemedicine, and there is little to no cross-state treatment allowed. These regulations can mean that patients must reside near a particular medical institution in order to access its remote services…an obvious catch-22.
In addition, there is continuing uncertainty over how health insurance should deal with virtual service provision. Debates about what services should be covered, what equipment and patient outlay is eligible for reimbursement, and which populations should be given priority continue as the technology evolves and what is available constantly changes.
Depending on your faith in bureaucracy, these issues are either the simplest or the most complex facets of telenursing. Right now, however, they stand as serious barriers to the popularity and accessibility of telenursing.